Saint Peter Chrysologus

Doctor of Homilies

    The thirteenth Doctor in a chronological series on the Doctors of the Church and the first so honored in the annual liturgical cycle was born at the turn of the 5th Century and, like his predecessor colleagues in the great academy of Doctors, strove with his every breath and magnificent oratory skills to uphold and preserve the Sacred fidei depositum . So great was his eloquence in conveying the Faith in all its beauty and simplicity that he is remembered, even though few of his sermons have survived the annals of history, as "Doctor of Homilies." He was Saint Peter Chrysologus.

    Born in Emolia, Italy in the year 400, Peter was nourished in the Faith by his parents and grew in grace, being educated, baptized and ordained by Cornelius, Bishop of Imola. At the same age as Christ lived to, Peter was consecrated Bishop of Ravenna in 433 according to his biography Liber pontificalis ecclesiĉ Ravennatis first written by Agnellus in the ninth century. This account also supports the fact Peter gained great favor in the most reverent sense from the Roman Emperor Valentinian III who made him an archdeacon. Through the influence of Galla Placida, the emperor's mother, Peter was made Archbishop of Ravenna by Pope Sixtus III through a vision the Holy Father had from Heaven.

    His loyalty to the Vicar of Christ knew no bounds for he steadfastly was loyal to Holy Mother Church in the face of Monophysite heresy. He personally confronted the leading proponent of the heresy Eutyches and advised him to cease trying to justify the Monophysite teaching out of obedience to the Synod of Constantinople in 448 which had condemned Monophysism, and to submit to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff. Though Peter's stern rebuke was not popular, he would not compromise.

    Throughout his tenure as Archbishop of Ravenna, he sought to reform the lax discipline that had preceded him and to root out the pagan influence that had so crippled the see in the past. He treated all with equal respect, preaching the love of neighbor for love of God, not for love of man. His homilies focused on the Gospels and he preached with the love of Christ.

    That love was illustrated in his fatherly reception of Saint Germanus of Auxere whom Peter took in and cared for until his death in the summer of 448. After preaching Germanus' funeral, Peter preserved the saints hooded sackcloth habit and the ashes that Germanus had covered himself with in penance. Both Peter and Germanus' example harvested many fruits.

    Historians say Peter was given a vision of his death and thus, returned to the place of his birth in Imola or, as it is known by some Emelia. There, at the age of 50 he joined the Church Triumphant on July 31, 450. Other than a handful of short sermons, very little survived of his works until they were discovered in later years.

    A collection of 176 of his homilies was compiled by Felix, Bishop of Ravenna early in the eighth century. Some are interpolations while several other homilies, known to be written by St. Peter Chrysologus, are included in other collections under different names. They are in a great measure explanatory of Biblical texts and are brief and concise. This holy Doctor explained beautifully the mystery of the Incarnation, the heresies of Arius and Eutyches, and impeccability of the Apostles' Creed. He also dedicated a series of homilies to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.

    His works were next edited by Agapitus Vicentinus in 1534 in Bologna at the height of the Protestant revolution when Peter's words 8 centuries earlier convinced many to stay the course and not be deceived by the heretics. It was the power of his convincing words that prompted Pope Benedict XIII to find enough evidence to proclaim him a Doctor of the Church in 1729.

    A century later in Venice in 1775 more sermons from this golden voice of the fifth century were read to new generations of the coming industrial age thanks to the efforts of S. Pauli. This same collection was reprinted in Firenze in 1863 containing 125 of the saint's sermons by Fr. Liverani who had discovered and edited nine new homilies and published from manuscripts in Italian libraries different readings of several other sermons. Several homilies were also translated into German by M. Held eleven years later as it became evident his words were as powerful during the time of Pope Leo XIII as they were during the reign of Sixtus III.

Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis]

DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH Series: St. Peter Chrysologus